House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy began the week with a skip in his step.
In the wake of House Speaker John Boehner's retirement announcement last week, McCarthy quickly emerged as the odds-on favorite to win Boehner's job. To be sure, with a looming debt ceiling deadline, government funding set to expire in December, and a restive right-wing faction within the GOP conference, McCarthy's new undertaking would prove a daunting one. But for the California Republican, who has served in the House only since 2007, his glide path to Congress's top job marked the latest chapter in McCarthy's rapid ascent.
Then came McCarthy's Tuesday night appearance on Sean Hannity's Fox News program, where the speaker-in-waiting boasted that thanks to the House's select committee on the 2012 Benghazi attacks, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "numbers are dropping" and she's now seen as "untrustable." Though few doubted that Republicans saw the Benghazi inquiry as a means of derailing Clinton's presidential campaign, they'd managed to avoid such frank discussion (in public) of the investigation's partisan purposes.
Naturally, McCarthy came in for withering criticism -- but not just from Clinton defenders; Republicans like Jeb Bush and Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz blasted his remarks, with Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, calling on McCarthy to apologize for his "absolute [sic] inaccurate statement."
Chaffetz's criticism took on new meaning Friday afternoon, as Politico reported that he's slated to mount a challenge to McCarthy's bid for speaker ahead of the October 8 leadership elections. Chaffetz joins Florida Rep. Daniel Webster in opposing McCarthy:
The last-minute move by the fourth-term lawmaker underscores frustration among some members of the Republican Conference with the current choices to lead the conference after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) leaves at the end of the month. Boehner announced last week he is resigning effective Oct. 30 amid growing discontentment among conservatives with his decisions on major policy questions, including government funding, the Ex-Im Bank and boosting the debt ceiling. All of those issues confront Republicans this fall.
Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) is the only challenger who has announced that he will run against McCarthy.
Chaffetz earlier this week made headlines when he backed his close friend, Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), for majority leader during an interview on Fox News. Gowdy, a McCarthy friend and ally, has ruled out seeking any leadership job.
Could Chaffetz beat McCarthy? It's unlikely; as Politico noted, it's by no means certain how many votes Chaffetz will win. And betting markets still see McCarthy as nearly a lock: PredictIt, an online predictions market, currently pegs McCarthy's speakership chances at 88 percent, little changed from before the Benghazi fracas.
Still, word of Chaffetz's plans comes hours after conservative pundit Bill Kristol tweeted, based on conversations with House members, that McCarthy has yet to lock down the 218 votes required for victory:
Even if McCarthy ultimately triumphs, however, his bumpy road to the speakership underscores the near-certainty that he'll be grappling with the same internecine conflict that ultimately proved unmanageable for Boehner.